Westminster, London

On the House of Commons terrace: Susan Kramer, Stephen, Trish, me, Caroline

It was a boil-your-brains sweltering day in London and I was a sweaty mess when I arrived at the House of Commons to have afternoon tea with Susan Kramer, Lib Dem MP for Richmond, and the 3 winners of the prize from my Prince’s Trust charity auction. Luckily it was soothingly cool in the Victorian Gothic halls of the Commons, and I took a seat in the Central Lobby to compose myself.

A white-haired gentleman tottered over and collapsed onto the green banquette next to me. ‘Marvellous lunch,’ he slurred. ‘Fine wines. Excellent.’

‘Hmmm,’ I said, non-committally.

Turns out he was there with the Poole Conservative Association – they had paid a fair amount to come and enjoy some Commons hospitality. He’d clearly got his money’s worth.

‘Poole has got one of the finest beaches in Europe, you know,’ he went on. ‘Sandbanks. Funny thing happened. Couple comes to stay for a fortnight. Disappear off to the beach every day. Gets to the last day of their holiday, and they say, “Don’t think much to your beach. No more than a mudflat.” “Where have you been going?” I say. Turns out they’ve been going down to the wrong side of the peninsula, and that IS a mudflat. 100 yards further, and they’d have found Sandbanks. Daft buggers.’

I made a note in my diary. How many people settle for the first thing that looks vaguely like what they’re looking for, when they might find something much better if they could be bothered to make a little bit more effort? ‘This looks like a life, this will do.’

My jottings were interrupted by the arrival of Trish, Stephen and Caroline. Susan Kramer bustled into the Lobby to meet us and we went to the Pugin Room for tea – elegant sandwiches with the crusts cut off, scones with jam and cream, a choice of fruitcake or fruit tart, and tea served in fine china cups. Only the service was a let-down, our waitress arguing the point when Susan pointed out that one medium size teapot might not be enough to serve four.

We bagged a policeman to take a photo of us out on the Riverside Terrace. Neil Kinnock was out there having a meeting with 7 or 8 people. I wasn’t brave enough to try and get a photo.

I WAS brave enough to try and rub Winston Churchill’s toe (the statue, that is) – the Lib Dems and Tories do this for luck before a vote. But a stern security guard intervened.

Too bad – alongside Oscar Wilde, Winnie is one of my heroes when it comes to providing the pithy quote. How about this one – ‘A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.’

Best not to share that one with Susan Kramer, I thought, especially as she clearly does make things happen.. Not least persuading recalcitrant Commons staff to bring another pot of tea.

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